Dear Professor Dawkins,
Just thought I’d write in to say thanks for penning The God Delusion. I’m currently stuck into the Magic of Reality and I plan to take on your other books in due course.
The God Delusion is probably the most important book I’ve ever read. You see, I was bought up in a vaguely Church of England way but the strange thing is my entire family have undergone religious conversion – whilst my parents and my brother became Catholics, my sister became a Pagan and I became an Athiest, having spent many years as a very uncertain, middle of the field agnostic (a 4 on the 1 to 7 scale: I’m now a much more contented 6) who occasionally tried very hard to believe, although I can’t honestly tell you why, looking back. My family have all been very accepting, curious even as have I about thier own journeys away from the Church of England. Even then giving up religion completely wasn’t entirely easy. It’s not just about what you do with you Sunday mornings, it’s about having to re-evaluate everything you believe about life and the universe (or universes even). Makes me really admire the moral courage of those who reject religion coming from a more fundamentalist background.
The thing is I wouldn’t say that there was one particular point, or several even, on reading The God Delusion where I was absolutely blown away by a particulaly brilliantly put argument (although it was not without it’s pleasant surprises, such as leaning about the Cargo Cults), it would be more accurate to say I just needed to hear somebody else voice the doubts, point out the absurdity of religion and it’s failures, certainly made clear once it is stood next to science, to explain why everything just is. It’s a cracking good read, and reading it felt like coming up for air. Not only is factually based belief in science just more reasonable then religion, it’s more satisfying.
But The God Delusion was not the only thing that made me an athiest. I’ve been a cop for a little over two years now. I could go on and on about having seen the best and worst in human nature and having seen no proof that any of it is motivated by the supernatural. Good things and bad things happen very often for absolutely no reason, but that’s not even my point. One thing that is held sacred (for lack of a better word) by both science and good law enforcement? Evidence. I’ve never liked the cliché about “following your gut instinct” because although it is good to question what doesn’t seem to be quite right the gut instinct can be just plain wrong. My point is what you suspect, what you believe and especially what you would like to be true is ultimately irrellivant: if you want to be a good cop (and I’ll wager a good scientist, or just able to justifiably call yourself informed) you have to have a completely fair, impartial and open minded approach and just follow the evidence wherever it takes you. I suppose it’s that kind of training and experiance of evaluating evidence that also led me to reject religion.
In particular, I’m raising the whole being a cop thing in response to the story in The God Delusion about the shocking reception an athiest wishing to organise a protest against a faith healer (who was encouraging, amoungst other things, sick people to give up thier vital medication) when they went to the police for advice. In the story the cops of the small American town aren’t too helpful, even going as far as to offer unlawful threats of personal violence to the athiest protagonist. Just wanted to point out that is not what I would call a typical response, nor is it a legal one: protests do require policing in case they turn violent and if they do, the people most likely to get injured are the cops in the middle holding the two opposing groups back but that does not justify such a hostile and bigoted approach. Impartiality is another cornerstone of policing: when I’m in my uniform I don’t express my own religious beliefs, or a sexual orientation, or political leanings, or a favourite football team and so forth. To protect the critically important concept of equality and fairness, in my uniform as far as any member of the public is concerned all I care about is my duty to fairly and impartially uphold the law.
Between you and me though I am an athiest cop, and I’m not the only one. I just wanted to pre-empt the myth that most police forces are religiously dominated organisations and are therefore unapproachable and inaccessible to athiests, or anyone who happens to not be cast from the same mould as the majority. Yes mistakes have been made in the past: both by individuals and the organisations, but lessons have been learnt and these few mistakes need not persist. Not on my watch. Indeed all police forces in Britain these days are fanatically (again, for lack of a better word) anti-prejudice as policy.
I’m aware I’ve gone off on a complete tangent but having seen a few negative stories about policing lately I wanted to redress the balance in the interest of fairness (a recurring theme with me, I’m sure you’ve noticed) and thanks for still reading if you have not already lost interest…! Once again keep up the good work.
Rob P, athiest copper
(P.S. The reason why I can’t quote the above story more accurately is because my copy of The God Delusion is currently with my mum. She’s agreed to read it if I go with her to a single Mass. It’s on.)